UK & World News
Whooping Cough Vaccine For Pregnant Women
Pregnant women are to be vaccinated against whooping cough in a bid to bring under control the biggest outbreak of the disease in two decades.
Nine babies under three months old have died so far this year in the UK.
The Department of Health said there have been a further 4,791 confirmed cases of the viral illness in England and Wales between January and August.
That is four times more than the whole of 2011, when there were 1,118 cases.
Doctors are most concerned about the rise in cases in babies too young to be vaccinated.
The virus causes serious coughing fits in babies, during which they 'whoop' as they gasp for breath.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: "Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable.
"It's vital that babies are protected from the day they are born - that's why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women."
From Monday, women who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be offered a vaccine through their GP surgeries.
Their immune systems will make antibodies that will be passed onto their babies in the womb, protecting them until they can be vaccinated at two months of age.
Vaccine experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said they have "no concerns" about the vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
"Clearly we don't want pregnant women taking medication of any form unless it is really necessary," added Prof Davies.
"But I can't stress enough that this is an important thing that pregnant women can do to protect their baby."
Pregnant women are already vaccinated against whooping cough in the US.
The new vaccination drive is backed by the royal colleges representing doctors, nurses and midwives.
Joe Lilly developed the disease when he was seven weeks old. It began as an ordinary cough, but soon worsened so that he stopped breathing several times an hour.
He received hospital treatment for several days but is now recovering at home. His mum Sarah urged pregnant women to have the vaccine.
"I would absolutely implore people to have it," she told Sky News.
"Seeing them so poorly and hooked up to so many machines, there should be no question. It is a horrible, horrible disease."